Teachers address violence at capitol in classroom

Grace Goverman, News Editor

While the news at the Capitol on Jan. 6 was shocking for many, the job of dealing with the emotional aftermath can be even more challenging. For the teachers faced with helping their students process the events of Jan. 6, the decisions each educator made about whether and how to breach the topic were complex and deeply impactful. To this end, LOHS teachers addressed the subject in a multitude of ways. 

Some social studies teachers, who tend to include current event discussions into class, used that same technique for addressing the insurrection. “I use a variety of news sources to explain the events of the day and if possible explain the historical context,” said social studies teacher Eric Whitbeck. His only hope is that his students are informed, he said, emphasizing that “knowledge is power.” 

Some teachers, on the other hand, placed greater focus on students’ emotional well-being following the event. Breck Foster, a fellow social studies teacher, was unsure whether talking about the event so quickly afterwards would facilitate the healthiest discussion. She opted to use the interactive slideshow platform Padlet to have students discuss their emotions from the event, what they felt were the causes of the riot and how they think that “we might heal as a nation after an event like this.” She said, “I want to foster an environment where kids can practice civil discourse, but I also feel like right after an event may not be the best time, but that is my comfort zone and others may feel differently and I respect that. The Padlet offered a chance to silently and anonymously reflect and ask questions, and I told my students we will address this but not today.” 

Social studies teacher Mario Peri concurred, saying, “My philosophy was to let students process this.” He had students write what they knew, what they saw and what they felt about what happened and pose any questions for him to answer. Many of the questions received revolved around the 25th amendment and impeachment, he described, and that “Nobody really wanted to share their thoughts… I don’t know if what I did was effective. I don’t know what other teachers did. I just did what I felt I was most comfortable with.”

One aspect that most teachers agreed was essential for addressing in the classroom was emphasizing the difference between truth and opinion or falsehood. 

Recognizing a lack of experience with holding group discussions in earlier Spanish classes, Spanish teacher Ian Reeves chose instead to talk to students about living a “fact-based lifestyle.” After briefly recounting facts surrounding the election and the riot, he asked his students to “move forward in life” by looking at things skeptically and examining veracity. He advised students, should they find themselves uncomfortable with the truths they’re faced with, to “rest in that.. It is the truth and you’re going to live a richer, more fulfilling and ultimately more compassionate life if you lead a fact based lifestyle.” 

As teachers are generally expected to speak in a non-partisan manner to their students, discussing charged events can be a difficult tightrope to walk. As part of her effort to keep discussion open and maintain those values, Foster described how she thinks “out loud” and models for students “how this is confusing.” She also tries “to never generalize or make sweeping judgements about anyone.” She said, “we need teachers to role model critical-thinking and in a non-partisan way affirm when something happens that is widely perceived as being against our laws, customs and democratic system.” 

Speaking without bias has increased importance in the times of online education. With Zoom, Reeves noted, teachers are often talking directly into a family’s living room with parents, grandparents or other family members listening.  “I do speak oftentimes from my heart… And so this has been an interesting lesson for me this year… I throw in a lot of qualifiers, and caveats, and [shape] what I’m trying to say before I even say it so that the parents understand that I’m not trying to indoctrinate or brainwash their children,” he said.